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Bratton oversees LAPD inquiry at critical time
Officers' use of force after pro-immigrant rallies occurs days before chief is up for reappointment.
Only days before officials will decide if Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton deserves a second term, he found himself Wednesday overseeing another high-profile investigation into allegations of police abuse on his watch — this time, whether officers used excessive force against immigrant rights protesters in MacArthur Park.
Even as organizers of the May Day march called for the chief to be fired and police union officials winced when he said he was "disturbed" by some video scenes, Bratton was impressing others, including one member of the Police Commission, the body that will decide his fate, with quick and decisive action.
In the frank style that made him a favorite of the tabloids when he headed the New York Police Department, Bratton told reporters early Wednesday that he was "disturbed" by videotapes that showed the confrontation and thought that the actions of some officers who used batons and foam bullets to clear the park were "inappropriate."
He later took a barrage of aggressive and challenging questions at a news conference at City Hall, where he voiced "regret" for the incident.
March organizers were not satisfied.
Javier Rodriguez, a leader of the March 25th Coalition, called for the Police Commission to reject Bratton's request for another term.
"He should be turned down. We should find someone with more sensitivity," Rodriguez said. "We firmly believe that there was a decision to attack the crowd. In any country other than the U.S., the man at the top would be fired."
Other community leaders, including Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), said they viewed the incident and the chief's handling of it as a sort of final exam.
"The speaker — and the entire city of Los Angeles — will be looking at the chief's handling of this situation before giving him a vote of confidence," said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for Nuñez.
The incident also deeply concerned Police Commission President John Mack, who said he was confident in the chief's ability to thoroughly investigate the matter but was unsure what role it would play in the decision on the chief's tenure.
"That's something to think about," he said.
Still, others praised his actions and observers inside and outside city government said they did not believe that the controversy would derail Bratton's request to be given a second, five-year term.
Hours before the park incident, 13 of the 15 City Council members had endorsed Bratton for another term, and he was expected to enjoy smooth sailing when the Police Commission takes up the issue Tuesday.
That optimistic appraisal has not changed as a result of the MacArthur Park incident.
"He's handled it very appropriately," said Police Commission Vice President Alan Skobin. "He's on top of it. He's engaged and promising a thorough investigation. If anything, I think his handling of it has been a big positive."
The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to ask Bratton to appear before the body within 30 days to explain what happened at the park, and how policy might be changed to avoid incidents in the future.
Even as council members said they were shocked by news videos showing the officers' actions, many singled out Bratton for his swift and forceful response.
"I want to thank the chief," Council President Eric Garcetti said. "This wouldn't have necessarily triggered the involvement of the Police Commission because it is not a life-threatening use of force."
Added Councilman Jack Weiss: "It is very clear we have a chief who is determined to get to the bottom of it, and get the facts out immediately. This is not your father's LAPD, and this is not your father's chief."
Even Councilman Herb Wesson, who likened the incident to the police beating of civil rights leaders in the South in the 1960s, praised the chief's response.
"I'm proud that the chief said quickly that some inappropriate actions took place," Wesson said.
But the chief's comments concerned officials in the union representing officers, who worried that they were forceful only to appease police commissioners who would decide whether he would be reappointed.
"There is a feeling he is forgetting his own comments of the past that police work is sometimes ugly and that there should not be a rush to judgment," said one Police Protective League official, who spoke on condition that he not be identified because his statement had not been approved by the union board.
Experts said they believed that the incident would not derail the chief's application for another term.
It would take something "much more scandalous" that directly involved the chief to upset his request for a longer tenure, said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs.
"It doesn't hurt him," Regalado said of the latest incident. "He still has 13 votes in the City Council. If he loses one or two that won't make a difference. And he still has widespread community leadership support."